Thomas Francis O’Mahoney was born in Seaforth, near Liverpool, Lancashire, England, on the 6th April 1894, the son of James C. and Ellen O’Mahoney. He lived at 25, Grasmere Street, Walton Liverpool.
He was a professional seafarer in the Mercantile Marine and engaged on the
Lusitania with the rank of seaman in the Deck Department at Liverpool on 12th April 1915. His monthly rate of pay was £5-10s-0d., (£5.50p). He joined the liner at 7 a.m. on the 17th April, before she left the River Mersey for the last ever time. It was not the first time that he had served on the vessel.
Three weeks later, he survived her sinking and having been rescued from the sea and landed at Queenstown, he eventually got back to Liverpool, where he was officially paid off from the liner’s last voyage and given the balance of wages owing to him, which amounted to £4-18s-6d., (£4.92½p). This represented his sea service from 17th April 1915 until 8th May - 24 hours after the vessel had foundered!
In the 1957, he related his story to Adolph and Mary Hoehling, who featured it in their book
The Last Voyage of the Lusitania, although they erroneously named him in the book as plain
The following year, he told his story again to Ian Severn, a feature writer on local newspaper
The Liverpool Echo and this was published in the edition of 29th March. It stated: -
When the first torpedo struck (I say first advisedly), he should by all that was right and equitable, have been far down in the bowels of the ship, working with shipmates who all subsequently died.
On the morning of May 7 all baggage and mail had to be lifted, ready for disembarkation. Lusitania carried about 10,000 bags of mail, and it had to be brought from the very depths of the ship to the deck. O'Mahoney’s name was fourth on the watch roster, and while he was not on look-out, he was for’ard helping the bosun on lifting work.
Misty weather ran up, and because of the ship’s high speed, it was decided to double the lookouts, and the Master-at-Arms told O’Mahoney to leave his work and go on watch. But because he had a long reach, and could grab the swinging bundles better as they were hoisted from the hold, the bosun overruled the Master-at-Arms. Another seaman named Fleming, next on the list was detailed.
“We were having breakfast when Fleming pointed out the lookout system was not now in strict rotation and we agreed I should do his next lookout,” Mr. O’Mahoney told me. “I was called at 11.20 for dinner and afterwards, at 11.45, I got dressed in all the clothes I could find and went on watch, while Fleming went to the baggage room aft, which was now being worked.”
The Master-at Arms on the Lusitania was William Williams who came from Liverpool.
“At four bells, (2 pm), O’Mahoney and his watch colleague were relieved, and they went to drink the customary tea that the oncoming watch had brewed, half drunk and left. I was telling the other fellow we ought to be getting below, (we only had ten minutes and five were needed for the descent into the ship), when, like everyone does, we decided we could manage just one more drink of tea. I had just put my cup down when we were hit. We were stunned. The fo’c’sle was filled with steam and we groped up the two ladders to the decks.
Far below, my shift, waiting for us to come, were trapped, with Fleming among them, They probably did not die until the ship went down 18 minutes later, though they could have been killed by the tons of baggage falling as she listed drunkenly.”
Fleming was Able Seaman Herbert Fleming, who came from Birkenhead across the River Mersey from Liverpool. Although Master at Arms Williams survived, 18 year old Able Seaman Fleming was killed. Once he had got on deck, Thomas O’Mahoney spotted six men and women on an awning which covered the veranda café. They were trying to get down to the deck below and as O’Mahoney tried to help them down, the awning collapsed and the tumbled down on top of him!
Having then helped to lower lifeboats, he decided that it was time to leave the sinking ship and worked out that his best way of escape lay with climbing down a rope hanging from the stern - which was already rising high out of the water.
The Liverpool Echo account tells the rest of the story of the sinking: -
As he dangled, at the end of a rope flung over the stern of the doomed Lusitania, Able Seaman Thomas O’Mahoney realised his error. .....
He was hovering above the airborne screws of the giant, upended liner, still turning in the defeated throes of her dash for land. Around him were scenes beyond description. Below - a sea littered with bodies, some living, some dead. Above - hundreds of other passengers and crewmen still deciding how to die. And only minutes were left.
O’Mahoney, near the end of his strength, began the long climb back up the rope. Inch by torturing inch, he edged back towards the deck. Then, as he reached a ledge below the deck, the strength in his arms failed. He could not, by all the laws, expect to live. Incredible chance - and the long arms which had dragged him back up the rope - and got him thus far, had saved his life once already. This was it. He dropped.
His hands skidding on the rope began to lose their skin. He plunged towards the screws; to strike them meant death or injury or drowning. But he was to escape again.
The ship had lurched further towards her grave while he was on the rope and now, as he fell, he encountered nothing until he hit the water. And there was a raft nearby.
A well populated raft he found, but O’Mahoney grabbed a finger hold and stayed there until he was dragged aboard a rescue vessel at midnight, nearly nine hours later, with dozens of others.
It is unlikely that O’Mahoney was rescued from the sea as late as midnight, but having been landed at Queenstown; he eventually made it back to Liverpool and his lodgings at Grasmere Street, which was off Breck Road, in the district of Walton. His account in The Echo took up the story again: -
On the first night at home, his landlord and landlady were alarmed to hear their lodger ‘carrying on’ in his sleep. Says he: “I had dreamed about the ship and the most peculiar thing was I dreamed she had gone down with four funnels and a mast – and come up again with four masts and a funnel! I must have been delirious; it appears I was creating quite a noise.
The next night being Sunday, the couple, ardent church goers, left him sitting before a roaring fire with many anxious backward glances, but somewhat comforted by the strong healthy young lad’s assurances that he would be all right. But he had not been sitting for long before he saw, peering at him through the back window, a face. "I saw it twice, as plain as could be; yet there were no features I recognised.
He went into the backyard. No one was there; so the next day he went to his doctor. "He told me I was letting the events play havoc with my nerves. He gave me a blinking bottle of medicine, and advised me to rest. I decided instead of the medicine, to go back to sea. The shipping master was quite understanding and fixed me up in the Aquitania. I signed up on the Tuesday after the disaster, and joined her the following Sunday."
So it was that Aquitania, nine days after her sister had sunk, sailed down-river with two Lusitania survivors - O'Mahoney and another man - in her crew.
It is possible that another man refers to Able Seaman Leslie Morton, the lookout who had first spotted the
U.20's torpedo. He had also signed on for service on the Aquitania, and like Thomas O'Mahoney, was a member of the Deck Department. Another former member of
Lusitania’s crew First Class Waiter Noel Finucane also served on the
The account continued: -
As luck would have it, she struck a rock outside Langton Dock and despite the efforts of every tug that could be spared, pivoted there for days. She finally limped into dry dock after being cleared when her top weight was stripped. Her crew thought sober thoughts. One man crystallised them when he muttered to O'Mahoney his intention of putting a good few miles between them. "You're a Jonah," he said.
But oceans are big and sailors forget. O'Mahoney left Aquitania to give evidence at the
(Mersey) enquiry, then sailed, on May 29th in the trooper Andana for the Dardanelles, and U-boat hell in plenty. He was soon finding it hard to convince shipmates he had been in Lusitania at all.
He stayed with the line for many years after that, but quitted Cunard in a way he regrets. He "jumped" the Scythia at Boston and went to work on the railroad and later helped to rig platforms on high grain elevators. To set against 30s a week to be earned in England, he kept himself and sent home £4 a week. But he came home again after a year in the cattle ship Devonian.
He kept going to sea, however, and has only been a landsman for the last ten years. "If I had my time to come again, I would surely go to sea again." says he!
Thomas O’Mahoney married Annie Burge in Liverpool in 1919, and continued to serve at sea for many years.
He died in Liverpool on the 6th May 1959, aged 65 years.
Register of Births, Marriages and Deaths, 1901 Census of England and Wales, 1911 Census of England and Wales, Cunard Records, Lawrence Evans, Last Voyage of the Lusitania, Liverpool Echo, PRO BT 100/345, PRO BT 350.